FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 22

Lost jobs: A crisis within a crisis

Tens of millions of migrant workers, forced to return home because of the Covid-19 pandemic after losing their jobs, face unemployment and poverty in their home countries. Between 1.4 million and 18.53m people are feared to have lost jobs in Pakistan as a result of lockdowns and restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Estimates say up to 60m people will be pushed into extreme poverty worldwide and at least 10 million more Pakistanis will drop below the poverty line.

Millions of migrant workers, who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, are expected to return home to already overburdened labour markets. They are left exceptionally exposed to the virus and the economic shutdown it triggered, according to the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation. “This is a potential crisis within a crisis,” said Manuela Tomei, director of the ILO’s conditions of work and equality department. “Many millions of migrant workers, who were under lockdown in their countries of work, have lost their jobs and are now expected to return home to countries that are already grappling with weak economies and rising unemployment.” The ILO estimates there are 164 million migrant workers worldwide — nearly half of them women — comprising 4.7 percent of the global labour force. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many migrant workers were unable to return home due to travel bans, and found themselves stuck.

India has repatriated more than 220,000 migrant workers, mostly from Gulf states. Nepal has repatriated around 500,000 people, who have lost their jobs abroad, mainly from the Middle East and Malaysia. Some 250,000 have headed back to Bangladesh, more than 130,000 to Indonesia and more than 100,000 to Myanmar, Michelle Leighton, chief of the ILO’s labour migration department, told a virtual press conference. Ethiopia is expecting between 200,000 and 500,000 to return by the end of the year. The ILO said that in many parts of the world, migrant workers were concentrated in sectors deemed essential during the coronavirus lockdowns, such as healthcare, transport, services, domestic work and agriculture. However, they were also more vulnerable to losing their jobs and income during economic crises.

Migrant women in domestic and care work were among the most vulnerable during the crisis, facing additional work and care demands, with entire families at home during lockdowns. Migrant workers were over-represented in sectors in which physical distancing is difficult, they very often hold temporary jobs, and job loss often means a loss of work and residence permits, pushing them into irregular status without protections. Migrant workers were “invisible to Covid-19 responses” despite the essential work they did, and needed to be factored into national plans. Returning migrant workers could also bring skills that could help their home economies rebuild after the Covid-19 downturn, said the ILO. But the families of returning migrants could suffer financially from the loss of remittances normally sent to them.

Monitoring reports by the ILO suggest that globally the young working population has borne the brunt of the pandemic. One of the biggest blows dealt by the pandemic, and the consequent lockdown, has been to the livelihoods of the young working population, especially those in the lower income groups. Even as countries and international agencies struggle to get an estimate of the extent of working hours reduced, the quantum of salaries trimmed and the number of jobs lost, early reports suggest that globally, the young population (representing the “lockdown generation”) has been hit the hardest. Nearly 94 per cent of the world’s workers live in countries that have a record of workplace closures. There has been a 10.7 per cent decline in the hours of work, equivalent to 305 million full-time jobs.

Regionally, the Americas, Europe and Central Asia present the largest losses in terms of the number of hours worked. Globally, young people have endured multiple shocks such as disruption of education, employment, training, incomes and job prospects. According to the report, 178 million young workers globally, or four in 10 young workers, were employed in sectors that have now been hard hit. About 77 per cent of young workers were in informal jobs, as compared with 60pc of adult workers. Technical, educational and vocational and on-the-job training has been severely disrupted by the pandemic. According to a joint survey by the ILO, UNESCO and World Bank, 98 per cent of the respondents reported complete or partial closure of training and vocational schools. Over two-thirds of such training is provided through online mechanisms. The lack of digital skills among teachers and students has severely impacted educational as well as vocational skill training in low-income countries. Owing to a weak infrastructure and limited access to the Internet and Information Technology (IT), only a minuscule proportion of low-income countries had shifted to online teaching, preferring instead to listen to television or radio broadcasts or use traditional teaching methods. School closures were reported to be the maximum in Africa.

A joint survey by the ILO and partners of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth has reported that since the onset of Covid-19, one in six young people had stopped working, and not of their own volition. Among the employed youth, a 23 per cent reduction in the hours of work was reported. Over 10 per cent of young students reported that they were unlikely to complete their studies, while half of those surveyed reported that their studies had been delayed. More than half of young people surveyed had become vulnerable to anxiety or depression since the onset of the pandemic. One in six young people surveyed had stopped working, and 60 per cent of women and 53 young men in the survey viewed their career prospects with uncertainty and fear. Young people who had discontinued working ran the highest risk of anxiety and depression.

According to the World Bank, 176 million people are expected to be pushed into poverty by the coronavirus crisis and two-thirds are in South Asia. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which approved around $732 million of emergency loans for Bangladesh, noted that up until the crisis, the country’s economy was growing close to seven per cent a year on average but, “We now project two per cent for 2020, a drop of six percentage points from 2019.” While announcing a $1.386 billion disbursement to Pakistan in late April, the IMF warned that the pandemic’s impact on its economy would be significant, “giving rise to large fiscal and external financing needs”.

The crisis could cause a loss of Rs3tr to Pakistan’s gross domestic product (GDP), which was expected to increase by three per cent, but it will now go down by -0.4pc. At least 10 million more Pakistanis will drop below the poverty line because of the toll of the pandemic, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey. Around one in four Pakistanis are currently too poor to meet basic needs, but the figure is predicted to rise closer to 30pc. The number of Pakistani jobs lost to the virus could be between 1.4m and 18.5 million. The situation poses extraordinary challenges, which require out-of-the-box solutions.